Game of Thrones: Maester's Edition is a spoiler-laden breakdown of the popular HBO series intended for readers who have read all published books in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. All events of all published novels are in play for this discussion, as is conjecture about upcoming books in the series. This review will focus on how well the show's producers have adapted the books for television.
SPOILERS FOLLOW: THIS CANNOT BE OVERSTATED. DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU HAVEN'T READ THE BOOKS.
3.03 "Walk of Punishment"
Ryan: Let's get this thing going—what exactly are we doing here and what was the genesis of it? The one thing I'd want to achieve is to hopefully not be seen as some kind of AV Club knockoff where we have Dylan and Nick doing their own reviews of the episodes, with Nick more or less not knowing what's going to happen and Dylan basically saying, "no comment" a lot, and then there's us: the super fans, the people who actually bought the Song of Ice and Fire Atlas and could never give you a satisfactory reason why, the people who spend their time at work poring over the Wiki of Ice and Fire; I was very excited to see that there were going to be "expert" and "newbie" reviews of Game of Thrones on the AV Club but have found it to be a profoundly disappointing endeavor. Primarily because even though it ostensibly may bring up plot points from further ahead, it's almost never done in depth, it's near-sighted, and we get treated to the same old, boring, persuasive, essay format that is their bread and butter. Although, we are freed up by not having to tie individual episodes up in questions such as, "what was the theme?". We can approach how we feel the producers of the show are doing in adapting the series—in this respect I think our ratings may differ from what we actually think of an episode.
John: Yeah, definitely, and this gets at the heart of the essential conversation that happens between Game of Thrones fans who have read the books and those who haven't. When a book you love gets adapted for the screen, it's only natural to get excited to see the story play out with real people and boobs, and it can be easy to forget that the story you know is likely going to be altered in significant ways. The prevailing wisdom nowadays is that you should get over it, that the people who say, "Well, in the book it was different," are just being annoying snobs or dense television viewers. The enlightened A Song of Ice and Fire fan, it is known, is someone who accepts these two stories as separate things and doesn't obsess over the tiny differences.
But I don't think that's valid at all, really, because part of the experience of reading a book—and these books in particular—is latching on to the various minor details that make a world more immersive and complex. And when you're dealing with an author who is as meticulous about his plotting as George R. R. Martin is, the tiny details are always much bigger than you think.
Ryan: Exactly. Although I look forward to digging into the major shifts in the story, putting on my favorite cloak and handing down doomy proclamations such as, "Joffrey will live," there's also great minor details that enhance everything in ways you'd never expect. One of my favorite examples being the legitimization of Jon Snow. On my first read through A Storm of Swords, I totally missed that. Believing Bran and Rickon dead and knowing he may very well die in any given battle, Robb Stark legitimizes Jon Snow and designates him as his heir (unless he manages to father a child). It's a detail that is never mentioned ever again and we don't know the fate of the courier who was meant to deliver this proclamation—but it just buzzes around in your head, particularly when Stannis attempts to do the exact same thing as a way of planting an ally in the Northern Kingdom, and never lets up; you are always thinking of what-could've-been scenarios that are not unlike Dylan's hardcore shipping of Hot Pie and himself.
John: Yeah, and that detail in particular is very strange because just after Robb makes that designation, the North becomes an absolute free-for-all in the wake of the Red Wedding, the arrival of the Ironborn, and the various rebellions and betrayals of the Northern houses. Taking Robb's late-game proclamation into account, it’s clear that by the end of the fifth book, Jon Snow—provided he has survived his brutal Breaking Bad-esque shanking—is technically the heir to an abandoned husk of castle that exerts zero political influence in its region. And depending on how stiffly the Winds of Winter blow, the entire North might soon be overrun with Others, which would make all of the Starks' former bannermen an afterthought in the grand scheme anyway.
But Jon Snow's legitimization, if it's included in the show, might be a really nice character note for Shouty Bro Robb before he gets taxidermized, so it could be a cool detail to keep. I don't anticipate it, though. They skipped every bedside scene between Catelyn and her father (admittedly, I'm grateful for this), which means that they're not really asking us to worry too much about how Robb and Catelyn are feeling right now. Besides sad and frustrated.
Ryan: I was rather thankful for the compression of Catelyn and the ramblings of her dying father as well. I find the show's Catelyn to be…kind of annoying, to be perfectly honest and the book version isn't exactly the kind of chapter I clamor for.
Something the show's producers have done exceptionally well has been the introduction of characters, often with amusing or tingling theatricality, and just like the introduction of Jojen and Meera on the last episode, I was very satisfied with how they chose to introduce Catelyn's uncle: Brynden "The Blackfish" Tully. Although the introduction of Iwan Rheon as the mysterious benefactor of Theon, who we all know is actually Ramsay Snow, the bastard of Roose Bolton, was, by contrast, wholly unremarkable it befits the character's incredibly deceptive nature. What I am wondering now, with Ramsay Snow now lurking in the background, is whether Reek will be introduced or whether they have chosen to ax that character entirely, which would make sense but dramatically shifts the way Theon's story plays out, and I've been wracking my brain trying to figure out what the producers may have in mind. We can already see Ramsey manipulating Theon into trusting him, but how he's going to totally destroy his identity and make him his servant is something that I have no clues or ideas about—which may just be the limitations of my own imagination more than anything else.
John: Well, in my opinion, the Ramsay Bolton plot (and the North in general) is just kind of fucked right now. You're right that they seem to have totally axed Reek the character, Ramsay posing as Reek, and Theon taking on the Reek identity. No Reek at all, I predict. And you're right that it makes sense to cut that stuff, because that's just an invitation for some really hammy, look-at-how-insane-I-am scene chewing from Alfie Allen (that's not a knock on Allen, who has done a great job as Theon). I just have so many questions about what's happening with House Bolton at the moment. Who was holding Theon? Was it the Boltons? Was that explicitly stated? And after setting Theon free and recapturing him, why did Ramsay kill his own men? Where could he possibly be taking Theon? I really hope their partnership isn't about to be some season-long con that will pay off in spades for those who haven't read the books. A slow reveal like that would only irritate the hell out of me.
And here's another thing that I think is really strange: the identity of Jaime's captors. I had assumed that he was captured by Roose Bolton at the end of the previous episode, because I thought there was some mention of a "flayed man" flag. But most reviews are identifying Jaime's butcher as some guy named "Locke," which yields this disappointing entry on A Wiki of Ice and Fire. Look, I had assumed that this was their plan for integrating Roose Bolton. By tying him into the Jaime plot, he can converse with Jaime and become persuaded that the North is fighting a losing cause. He can then release Jaime, and then voila! You finally have the architect of the Red Wedding fully incorporated into the show after two seasons of dragging your feet. But no. We're dealing with some dude named Locke. If you're going to introduce some dude named Locke, why not just introduce the Brave Companions?
Ryan: I believe it was mentioned by Bolton last season that his bastard was on his way to Winterfell to deal with Theon, and the device that Theon is attached to is exactly that "X" which is displayed on the Boltons' sigil—since the Westerosi have such huge boners for their sigils and house slogans I think it's very safe to infer that Theon was being held in the Dreadfort.
You also bring up a good point that I hadn't really considered: if you're going to introduce some throwaway character such as Locke why not just have the Brave Companions in the show? Although the absence of Vargo Hoat and his lovely way of speaking was a disappointment to some, particularly people named Dylan, I think it would've just gotten on viewers' (who haven't read the book) nerves, because of the shifting loyalty of the Brave Companions (although that probably could've been eliminated), as well as perhaps by inducing a fatigue when it comes to new characters. Assigning the duty of mutilating Jaime to a random nobody in House Bolton definitely lacks the flavor of it being done by Vargo Hoat, but allows the producers to maintain a kind of consistency without worrying about potential viewers thinking the show is running away from them—this can also be seen in the way in which they rarely speak of any Houses that are outside of the main action. Putting Jaime in such close proximity to Roose Bolton does seem like a very good way to get the wheels in motion for the Red Wedding, but I honestly like the idea of that whole deal being worked out between Tywin and Roose in secret much more. There is something to what you say though, and it's another point that had never entered my mind. With Vargo Hoat and Reek possibly cut from the story I am now also thinking if we'll get to see Beric Dondarrion next week or whether they've collapsed his story into Thoros', even though an actor played Ser Beric in the first season.
John: That's a pretty good explanation for why they've downplayed Roose's machinations so much (to such an extent, in fact, that I've forgotten all of his speaking appearances in the show), and they still have plenty of time to ease him into the action and still preserve the shock factor of the Red Wedding. And there does seem to be a tier of characters that are borderline expendable. I honestly was surprised to see that they gave
Edmure Tully a significant speaking part this week, and you're right that someone like Beric Dondarrion might not even show up. I think my list of the show’s "expendable" characters includes both Jojen and Meera (Osha could probably get Bran where he needs to go without issue) and the Brotherhood without Banners, who are even named individually. Thoros & Co. aren’t even of much consequence in the overarching plot of the books, except to muck around in the riverlands with everyone else before Zombie Catelyn appears.
By the way, I'm not even sure whether they'll do Zombie Catelyn, because Catelyn's arc has been so severely truncated at this point, and also because Zombie Catelyn's importance hasn't even been established in the books yet. But to hop over to Essos now, here's something I wanted to discuss with you before getting to your fascinating "Joffrey will live" theory: do you think they'll condense Dany's Essos Conquest tour into just one city?
Ryan: I do think they're going to eliminate at least one of the slaver cities because in the title sequence you can only see one city to the North of Astapor, which I think we can all assume is Meereen. Zombie Catelyn is a total cypher to me right now. I can't imagine eliminating her because that makes the ultimate fates of Jaime, Brienne and the search for Sansa totally up in the air for us who aren't producing the show (and unless my doomy proclamations come true, I am assuming the producers are trying to toe a line where they are trying to placate both people who only watch the show and the series' readers—adapting without too severe of a deviation). Without some established importance beyond that I can also see the argument for not including her. Now that I think about it, it seems possible to have Catelyn escape the Red Wedding alive and end up hiding with the Brotherhood Without Banners and still manage to be crazy Lady Stoneheart because of the loss of all her children—being a zombie doesn't even seem to be necessary; this could be another direction that runs in the similar vein to my horrific premonition that the character of Joffrey will not die.
But before I get to that I did want to counter that I think Jojen and Meera, probably, could not have been eliminated successfully without some severe eyebrow raising. Although it's feasible for Bran to navigate to the wall (and beyond) with the group he already had, Osha is eventually going to need to separate from the group with Rickon—I believe they will do this when Bran and the group inexplicably stumble upon Jon Snow's wildling party. With Osha and Rickon gone he would need guides even though I am sure Hodor is secretly a very accomplished cartographer and navigator. There's no doubt in my mind that Osha and Rickon will separate from them because I see absolutely no narrative choices that would serve them going to the last Greenseer. Perhaps more slyly, keeping Jojen and Meera in allows us to learn of Howland Reed who is probably the most surreptitiously important character in the whole series at this point. We'll have to get to my "Joffrey will live" theory next week perhaps, maybe I'll have more circumstantial evidence to back it up.
John: Great point about the opening sequence maps, and about Osha and Rickon. And let's not forget that Rickon's whereabouts have been severely downplayed in the books since he left Bran. I think there's an outside chance that he could be by far the most warged-out (and most powerful?) Stark by the time Davos finds him.
Ryan: Rickon is going to return to Westeros, from Skagos, as a deliriously psychotic cannibal and he's just going to eat all of the competition for the Iron Throne. To prevent this from going on too long I wanted to close this out with a general comment about the narrative tone that is different from the books. In general I have been very satisfied with the way adapting the books has been handled, but there was a lot of levity in this episode which, while I enjoyed immensely, felt was inappropriate and uncomfortably wedged in to prevent the unrelenting bleakness of this season's (and next season's) events from overwhelming people. Did you feel the same way?
John: Yes, I completely agree about the comedy bits. They are genuinely funny, and this episode kept the laffs coming at a pretty high rate for most of its runtime. But it does kind of present a tonal problem for the show. For instance, since I knew Jaime was going to lose a hand in this episode (and, in doing so, gain a moral compass), that scene, following on the heels of such a frantic, lighthearted episode, kind of played out like a joke with a punchline; I wanted to laugh when the knife came down and Jaime’s face contorted in shock. Cue "The Bear and the Maiden Fair" by the Hold Steady, which didn’t exactly make things feel somber. I will always welcome comedy featuring Tyrion, Bronn and Podrick, though.
Ryan: I think I much prefer the comedy to be delivered in the dialogue, such as when Varys and Baelish snipe at each other as well as Tyrion and Bronn's back and forth. It seems like the comedy is stillborn when the situation is the fulcrum upon which the comedy turns (the placement of chairs on the small council, Podrick coming back with the prostitute's money).
John: Great point. They do better with funny dialogue in the midst of bleak happenings than they do with humorous sketches featuring these characters, which is generally true of the books as well. I predict Rickon will assume wolf form and savagely mate with Arya/Nymeria because incest bestiality incest.
Ryan: Jon Snow will hook up with his half-sister, Rickon and Arya will get it on, Bran is going to have sex with trees and just about every other animal…the gene pool of Westeros is just hopelessly doomed. I think that I'll give this episode 4 stars, I have yet to see some truly inspired adaptation choices but hold out hope that I may someday be wowed.
John: I will let your suggestion that Jon Snow will hook up with his half-sister rather than his possible Aunt Dany go unremarked upon in the interest of keeping this review below infinity words. I think 4 is a good number of stars for this episode. The pacing and tone suffered, but it's Game of Thrones, so it has to really fuck the dog for me to venture in to sub-4 stars territory.
Ryan: Oh shit, you're right, Dany is probably John's Aunt!
WE R XPERTS
But, y'know, he was pretty close to Arya…
John: "Let me introduce you to Needle."
Ryan: Stick 'em with the pointy end.
John Bender is a Twitter anarchist with questionable opinions about celebrity lifestyles and the Lost finale. He edits erotic novels by day and works tirelessly by night to improve upon his personal record of 41.06 in the Mecha Marathon minigame in Mario Party 2. He also plays in Fitness.
Ryan Usher was born in Spokane, where he promptly quit the Boy Scouts of America. He is sometimes found tweeting at @RyanGUsher.